Another side of Lynn Goldsmith at the Art Base Annex
If You Go …
What: ‘Through the Looking Glass: Artist Proofs by Lynn Goldsmith’
Where: Art Base Annex, Basalt
When: Through Aug. 6
More info: www.theartbase.org
You probably know Lynn Goldsmith as a portrait photographer and legendary chronicler of rock ’n’ roll, for her countless album and magazine covers, for her shots of Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and Patti Smith in her Basalt gallery. But an exhibition of her work at the Art Base Annex, which opened July 8, showcases another side of Goldsmith as she turns the lens (sort of) on herself.
The rich, surreal, often funny works in “Through the Looking Glass” feature intricate scenes that Goldsmith built from composites of multiple digital images, papier-mache sets and elaborately costumed mannequins — each starring herself in a different guise. There is Goldsmith’s mischievous smile as a ringmaster, as Rapunzel, as Pandora opening her box, as Alice in Wonderland.
This is Goldsmith as identity artist.
These playful images and this fascination with identity began, quite literally, with play. At a talk at the Art Base on Thursday with gallery director Genna Moe, Goldsmith recalled playing with dolls as a child in Michigan. While they’d always come with their own costumes and often a name from the manufacturer, Goldsmith would choose to make new clothes for them with her grandmother, to give them new names and to have them play different characters in stories she created.
“That idea of how the clothes that one puts on a doll, that you put on yourself, can create a whole persona was something that fascinated me and empowered me to make myself — much less my dolls — become anything I wanted to,” Goldsmith said.
In her life as a portrait photographer, she said, she applied that idea to creating images of people that reflected how her subject might want to be seen and how she could shape how the world would view them.
Goldsmith has been working on the “Looking Glass” body of work since 2000, and published a book of pieces from the ongoing project in 2011. It has served as an escape from her more commercial photography, she said, prompted by a low point for the indefatigable artist.
“I was so busy with portrait sessions and doing everything that I realized I was making work but I wasn’t reflecting on it,” she recalled of the early inspiration for the “Looking Glass” pieces. “So I realized there was no point. That got me pretty depressed.”
Goldsmith has split her time between the Roaring Fork Valley and Manhattan for the past 17 years. In New York’s garment district, she recalled, she would watch people window shopping outside of Macy’s and then follow them inside to see what they bought.
“I would think about what the hell they were seeing when they look in that window,” she said. “And I started to think about what it is that we see that will make us think a certain piece of fashion is going to change our life.”
And so she began trying on different personas, staging the elaborate scenes for “Looking Glass” pieces, placing herself — actually, placing her head digitally on a mannequin’s body — in Victorian era dress, in slinky contemporary haute couture, in a ballroom gown, in a weightlifter’s unitard, and so on. The scenic details in these pieces are an imaginative grab bag — monkeys in one background were photographed in the Museum of Natural History, for instance, and gargoyles in another were shot in the backyard at Hunter Thompson’s Owl Farm in Woody Creek.
Trying on these different identities and thinking about how fashion and costume can transform identity, Goldsmith said she was reminded of a favorite quote from George Elliot: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”
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